Hundreds of letters, manuscripts, and other documents belonging to the Founding Father and his family are going up for auction.
On January 18, history buffs and fans of the Broadway musical Hamilton will have a chance to get their hands on letters and manuscripts connected to the “$10 Founding Father without a father” when Sotheby’s puts an archive of Hamilton family documents up for auction. The lots run from the seemingly mundane—receipts belonging to the Schuylers; a letter from John Jay about a cow; legal documents pertaining to Hamilton’s practice—to documents of huge historical significance, including the order that named Hamilton aide-de-camp to George Washington (which hasn't been seen for more than a century) and a previously unknown draft of one of Hamilton’s Pacificus essays. There are letters up for auction, too, as well as a lock of Hamilton’s hair.
The collection was passed down from Hamilton's wife, Eliza, to the couple’s fourth child, James A. Hamilton, who subsequently bequeathed it to his daughter, Frances Hamilton Bowdoin; she gave the documents to her son George, and they’ve been in the Bowdoin family ever since. Want to own a piece of Hamilton history? Register to bid here.
1. HAMILTON’S APPOINTMENT AS WASHINGTON’S AIDE-DE-CAMP // LOT 1004
Manuscript document, one page (11 x 8 5/8 in.; 280 x 220 mm) on a bifolium (watermarked JWhatman), "Head-Quarters, Morristown" [New Jersey], 1 March 1777, written in a neat clerical hand in imitation of letterpress, signed by Alexander Scammell, Adjutant-General of the Continental Army ("Alexd Scammell | Adjt-Genl"), docketed on verso by Hamilton "Commission as Aid de Camp | 1 March 1777"; a few light stains, minor repairs to fold separations.
The order that started it all. According to Sotheby’s, “This sale marks the reappearance of one of the most consequential documents in American history—the appointment that made possible the meteoric and momentous career of the most unlikely of the Founding Fathers. Harold C. Syrett's standard edition of The Papers of Alexander Hamilton takes its text from the illustration of the document in Allan McLane Hamilton's Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton … and notes ‘H[amilton]'s copy of the General Orders has not been found.’” Estimated Price: $150,000 - $250,000
2. EARLIEST SURVIVING LOVE LETTER TO ELIZABETH SCHUYLER // LOT 1007
Five pages (7 7/8 x 6 3/8 in.; 200 x 163 mm) on 2 bifolia, [Amboy, New Jersey], “Thursday Forenoon” [17 March 1780], integral leaf of second bifolium with autograph address (“Miss Eliza Schuyler); stained, a few short fold separations, some repaired, seal tear and repair, address leaf detached.
Hamilton met his future wife, Elizabeth Schuyler—who he called Eliza or Betsey—in early 1780. (Eliza, who lived with her family in Albany, was visiting her aunt in Morristown.) This letter, according to Sotheby’s, is the earliest surviving love letter he sent to Eliza, and just the third he ever sent (the first was co-addressed to Catharine Livingston; the second was lost). He addressed her as “my dearest girl,” writing, “You give me too many proofs of your love to allow me to doubt it and in the conviction that I possess that, I possess every thing the world can give.”
Also up for auction is a letter from Hamilton to Eliza’s sister, Margarita “Peggy” Schuyler, sent a month earlier than his March missive to Eliza. In it—even though he hasn’t yet met Peggy in person—he confesses his love for Eliza: “I venture to tell you in confidence,” he wrote, “that by some odd contrivance or other, your sister has found out the secret of interesting me in every thing that concerns her.” Estimated Price: $40,000 - $60,000
3. LETTER TO ELIZA ABOUT BENEDICT ARNOLD’S TREASON // LOT 1014
Three pages (8 7/8 x 7 3/8 in.; 223 x 188 mm) on a bifolium, [Robinson’s House, Highlands (present-day Garrison), New York, opposite West Point], 25 September ; half-inch strip torn from the foot of the second leaf costing Hamilton’s signature and perhaps a final line of text, other minor early repairs to fold separations, stained, silked. Tipped to a larger sheet.
When it came to light in September 1780 that Benedict Arnold had committed treason against the United States, Washington sent Hamilton to grab the traitor. But Arnold—who had fled as soon as he heard that his coconspirator John André had been arrested—was able to escape on the Vulture, a British man-of-war. That day, Hamilton wrote to Eliza that “In the midst of my letter, I was interrupted by a scene that shocked me more than any thing I have met with—the discovery of a treason of the deepest dye. The object was to sacrifice West Point. General Arnold had sold himself to André for this purpose. The latter came but in disguise and in returning to New York was detected. Arnold hearing of it immediately fled to the enemy. I went in persuit of him but was much too late.” Arnold and his family eventually sailed for England, where he lived until his death in 1801. Estimated Price: $35,000 - $50,000
4. PREVIOUSLY UNRECORDED DRAFT OF PACIFICUS ESSAY NO. VI // LOT 1039
Four pages (10 x 7 3/4 in.; 255 x 197 mm) on a bifolium, [Philadelphia, early July 1793], with numerous revisions, emendations, and deletions; short tear at foot of both leaves, early repair to central fold.
After Washington issued his Proclamation of Neutrality in April 1793, Hamilton used the pseudonym Pacificus to defend the proclamation in the press. It was not the first Hamilton had picked up his pen to defend a document: He, John Jay, and Madison had published the Federalist Papers, 85 essays defending the Constitution, under the name “Publius.” But while Madison had joined with the Federalist Hamilton to defend the Constitution, he and his fellow Democratic-Republicans—Thomas Jefferson included—were not fans of Washington’s proclamation. Madison used the pen name Helvidius to rebut Publius.
This four-paged document shows Hamilton's Essay No. VI in progress (which, though heavily marked, is very close to the published version). According to Sotheby’s, “Hamilton himself considered his Pacificus essays to be the equal of the Federalist essays that he wrote as Publius, even incorporating them into an 1802 edition of The Federalist. As none of his Federalist essays survive in manuscript, the present Pacificus paper may be considered the most important political holograph of Hamilton in private hands.” Estimated Price: $300,000 - $500,000
5. LETTER FROM HAMILTON TO ELIZA ABOUT THE WHISKEY REBELLION // LOT 1042
One page (7 3/8 x 5 7/8 in.; 185 x 151 mm) on a bifolium, Carlisle [Pennsylvania], 10 October 1794, address direction at foot (“Mrs. Hamilton”), autograph address (“Mrs. E. Hamilton”) and large seal remnant on integral leaf; fore-edge of integral leaf restored. Tipped to a larger sheet.
The seeds of the Whiskey Rebellion were sown in 1791 after Hamilton—looking for a way to lessen the government’s debt after the Revolutionary War—proposed an excise tax “upon spirits distilled within the United States, and for appropriating the same.” Congress enacted the tax, and farmers in the west were not pleased. Washington tried to resolve the dispute without involving troops, but when protestors burned down a tax inspector’s home in 1794, he gave Hamilton permission to raise a militia. Shortly after he and Virginia governor Henry Lee marched to Pennsylvania to confront to rebels, he wrote to Eliza, “We are very strong & the Insurgents are all submissive so that you may be perfectly tranquil. My health thank God is excellent. But I have heared from you only once. You must continue to write to this place sending your letters to [Secretary of War] General [Henry] Knox to forward to me.”
Hamilton was right: The rebellion was finished before the troops even got there, and only two men were ever prosecuted for their involvement. (Washington later pardoned them.) Estimated Price: $10,000 - $15,000
6. FRAGMENT FROM A WILL APPARENTLY WRITTEN IN ANTICIPATION OF A 1795 DUEL // LOT 1044
Portion of a leaf (5 1/8 x 7 7/8 in.; 132 x 198 mm), [New York, July 1795]; trimmed at top and bottom, still secured to its full integral leaf; fold separations repaired, some small stains.
Everyone knows about his infamous duel with Aaron Burr, of course, but Hamilton came close to participating in a few affairs of honor over the course of his lifetime (including, once, with future president James Monroe—an incident that Burr stepped in to stop). Hamilton also came close to dueling with James Nicholson in 1795. After a public meeting about the Jay Treaty—which was brokered with Britain by Federalist John Jay that helped to avert war—Hamilton had actual stones thrown at him. Afterward, Hamilton encountered and exchanged words with Nicholson, who called him an “abettor of Tories.”
Hamilton fired off a letter to Nicholson, writing that “The unprovoked rudeness and insult which I experienced from You on Saturday leaves me no option but that of a meeting with You, the object of which You will readily understand.” Then, he created a will; the fragment, according to Sotheby’s, was “previously unrecorded and unpublished” until now. As it turned out, the will was unnecessary; Nicholson and Hamilton avoided the dueling ground when “the two men were able to agree on the language of an apology.” Estimated Price: $8000 - $12,000
7. LETTER FROM PHILIP HAMILTON TO ALEXANDER // LOT 1052
Two pages (9 7/8 x 7 7/8 in.; 253 x 200 mm) on a bifolium, New York, 21 April 1797, autograph address on integral leaf ("Alexander Hamilton Esqr. | Albany"); rough seal tear into one word of text.
This letter, according to Sotheby’s, is the only surviving letter from Philip to his father, and hasn’t been seen by the public for more than a century. In it, the 15-year-old talks about shares in a fund given to him by his grandfather and a speech he’s giving at school. “Dear Papa,” he wrote, “will you be so good as to give my thanks to Grand papa for the present he made me but above all for the Good advice his letter Contains—which I am very sensible of its being extreemly necessary for me to pay particular attention to in order to be a Good Man. I remain your most affectionate son.” Estimated Price: $10,000 - $15,000
8. LETTER FROM RICHARD FOLWELL INTENDED FOR HAMILTON ABOUT MARIA REYNOLDS // LOT 1053
Autograph Letter Signed By Richard Folwell (“Ricd. Folwell”) To Edward Jones, Providing Background Information, Intended For Alexander Hamilton, On Maria Reynolds And A Supposed Conspiracy To Entrap Him.
Hamilton was famously involved in one of the first sex scandals in American political history. In 1791, he began an affair with Maria Reynolds, a 23-year-old married woman who claimed her husband had left her. A few months later, Hamilton heard from Maria’s husband, James, who suggested that Hamilton pay him $1000 to leave Philadelphia, and his wife; Hamilton paid and continued to see Maria.
When James was imprisoned for forgery, he reached out to Hamilton for help, but Hamilton ignored him—so James told the Democratic-Republicans about Hamilton’s affair with his wife and accused the Treasury Secretary of speculation. When confronted by his political rivals, Hamilton came clean about the affair and showed them evidence that he had not been involved in speculation; he eventually ended his affair with Maria, and for a time, it seemed it would remain a secret. Then, in 1797, the gossip got out when James Callender—a friend of Jefferson’s—published two pamphlets revealing the affair and the allegations of illegal speculation.
In late August 1797, Hamilton published “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” an account of the affair that refuted claims of speculation, to clear his name. Edward Jones, the first chief clerk of the Treasury Department, gathered evidence to bolster Hamilton’s case. In this letter, dated August 12, Federalist publisher Richard Folwell wrote that “A few days after Mrs. Reynolds’ first appearance in Philadelphia, a Relation of hers requested my Mother to receive her for a few Days, into our House, as she was a Stranger in the City, and had come here to endeavour to reclaim a prodigal Husband, who had deserted her and his Creditors at New York. … she told me, so infamous was the Perfidy of Reynolds, that he had frequently enjoined and insisted that she should insinuate herself on certain high and influential Characters,—endeavour to make Assignations with them, and actually prostitute herself to gull Money from them.” Estimated Price: $40,000 - $60,000
9. LETTER FROM ANGELICA SCHUYLER CHURCH REPORTING THE DEATH OF PHILIP HAMILTON // LOT 1061
One page (9 5/8 x 7 5/8 in.; 247 x 197 mm), New York, 24 November 1801, docketed on verso ("Mrs. Church | Novemr. 24. 1802"); small seal tear, a few rust spots or holes, one costing bits of 2 letters. Accompanied by a nineteenth-century transcription.
Philip Hamilton was just 19 when he met—and was mortally wounded by—27-year-old lawyer George Eacker on the dueling ground in Weehawken, New Jersey in 1801. (The duel was the result of insults Eacker had hurled at Alexander Hamilton in a Fourth of July speech; when Philip confronted Eacker about his remarks, the two exchanged insults and could not reach a peace.) Hit in the hip by Eacker’s bullet, Philip was taken to his aunt and uncle’s house, where he died the next morning.
Eliza’s sister, Angelica Schuyler Church, wrote to her brother, Rensselaer Schuyler, with the sad news in this previously unpublished letter. "My dear Nephew Philip Hamilton received a mortal wound from Mr. Eacker in a duel yesterday at three oClock, of which he expired this morning, with perfect resignation, and in Faith and hopes of an immortal existence,” she wrote. “His conduct was extremely satisfactory during this Trial; I cannot write particulars now. My sister is a little composed, and the corpse will be removed from my house in an hour.” Estimated Price: $3000 - $5000
10. A LOCK OF HAMILTON’S HAIR // LOT 1068
One page (7 1/2 x 6 1/4 in.; 190 x 158 mm) on a bifolium, [New York, 1807 or after], autograph address on verso of integral leaf ("Mrs. Schuyler"); small seal tear, some very light creasing and wrinkling, browned. The hair preserved in a late nineteenth-century oval blue velvet locket-case (2 1/8 x 1 7/8 in.; 54 x 46 mm).
According to Sotheby's, Eliza frequently gave her late husband’s hair as a gift (a common practice at that time). This lock, contained in a blue velvet case, was given to her brother Philip Jeremiah Schuyler’s new wife, Mary Ann Sawyer. “My dear Sister,” Eliza wrote, “my little girl has informed that you wish to have something that has been my Hamilton's and as it gives me great pleasure to gratify you, I send you a Lock of his Hair for a ring, I am shur you would have been a great favourt of his and therefore pray you to wher it remembrances of him. Your Affectionat Sister.” Estimated Price: $15,000 - $25,000